The Marine Stewardship Council’s board of trustees have unanimously approved an updated version of its fisheries standard.
Following a four-year review involving 1,000 stakeholders and scientific research, the update was hailed as a “major achievement” by the board, with the new standard to be published in October.
Improvements include a new approach to protect endangered, threatened or protected species, while a Fins Naturally Attached policy to clamp down on shark finning will be mandatory in all fisheries that retain sharks. New evidence requirements have also been introduced to make fisheries produce stronger proof of how they are managing their impact on the environment.
Additionally, some existing requirements have been streamlined to make assessments more efficient and to improve methods to aid data-limited fisheries. New measures for multi-jurisdictional fisheries have been introduced to secure credible, robust harvest strategies.
“While there are sometimes competing views of what should be in the standard and where the bar is set, we strongly believe this new version strikes the right balance between setting a high ambition for sustainability with the need to make sure the requirements are practical for the best-performing fisheries around the world to implement over appropriate transition timelines,” said Dr Werner Kiene, chairman of the MSC board of trustees.
The MSC said the new standard would ensure certified fisheries continued to be recognised as “world leaders in sustainability” and help drive progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including the end of overfishing.
The standard currently includes 539 fisheries which represents 16% of the world’s wild marine catch, making it the largest sustainable fishing programme in the world.
The improvements follow the most extensive consultation ever undertaken by the organisation, addressing some of the most difficult issues facing the ocean. As the new standard is rolled out and implementation begins, MSC experts will be making available a full programme of training and guidance to support fisheries and assessors to apply the new requirements.
“On the eve of the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, the world’s attention is increasingly focusing on the critical need to ensure our ocean resources are managed sustainably, for this and future generations,” said Rupert Howes, chief executive of the MSC.
“MSC’s new Fisheries Standard will deliver real benefits and contribute to accelerating the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals through the continued engagement and support of our partners. This is good news for the ocean, fishers and consumers.”
In response to the new version of the standard, campaign group On The Hook – which has long been critical of perceived shortcomings in how fisheries are certified as sustainable – said it still needed a “fundamental overhaul of MSC’s mindset and its operations”.
“We welcome the confirmation that the new MSC Fisheries Standard will make a Fins Naturally Attached policy mandatory in all fisheries that retain sharks,” said an On The Hook spokesman.
“However, as highlighted by some of the world’s leading NGOs including WWF, Pew and The Nature Conservancy, the most recent draft presented for public consultation contained significant weaknesses which could allow fisheries to avoid key requirements and therefore undermine any potential that the new Standard might have to drive positive change on the water.
“It is increasingly widely understood that MSC is not delivering on its objective of ‘oceans teeming with life’.”